I have been a fan of Dr. Neal Barnard for many years. He’s the founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates for better practices in medical schools, better work by the federal government on nutritional issues, and the helpfulness of a whole food plant based diet (WFPB) for health and the environment. One of his books details the benefits of a low fat WFPB diet in the treatment of diabetes.
I was diagnosed with diabetes after several years on a vegetarian, and then vegan, diet. I was not by any stretch of the imagination on a WFPB diet. I was the kind of vegan who ate canned and frozen food after returning from a stressful day at work, and would be no more likely to buy fresh veggies or fruit than the next person. When I returned to Vermont from a stint in the nation’s capital, I reverted to vegetarian with all that lovely Vermont cheese to bolster me. My diabetes worsened and I was placed on insulin at 30 cc a day of a long-acting version. My diabetes worsened more and then improved, then worsened again.
In February, I converted to a WFPB low fat diet as much for the environment as for my health. Animal agriculture (including dairy and eggs) contributes more to climate change than the entire transportation sector. Many conservative estimates suggest that it is responsible for 14-18% of the problem. A more inclusive calculation that adds in the loss of Amazon rainforest to animal feed and ranching, places the number at closer to 51%. I was no longer going to be a part of that in any way.
I read as much as I could about the effects of my new diet on my diabetes, and was somewhat concerned after three months that my weight loss (30 pounds to date) had not led to a lower need for insulin. I got a rude surprise. One afternoon last week, I suffered a bout of hypoglycemia for the first time in years. I treated it as I had been taught and sent a message to my doctor. This was on a Thursday, and I had not heard from her before the weekend. She had advised me that I might need to reduce my insulin if I continued to lose weight and exercise. I followed her instructions. I had another hypoglycemic attack Monday morning, and called the office for immediate assistance.
The assistant I talked with was the medication manager. We discussed how to treat my current low blood sugar, and she instructed me to lower my insulin further. I was to call again on Wednesday, and I did before I took my insulin. She told me to drop to 5 cc, one sixth of what I had taken the prior Thursday. When I woke up Thursday morning, my fasting blood sugar was still very low in spite of the lower insulin the day before. I resolved to stop taking the insulin.
This morning that step was confirmed by the medication manager, and she advised me to call in a few weeks so we could discuss lowering my other medications with a goal of removing all meds.
Am I cured? Not yet! But I will be within a few months. And I am not alone. If I could shout it from the rooftops, I would. This disease is a scourge on the American economy for everybody except Big Pharma and the doctors who care for us. It costs an average of $13,000 more a year to treat a diabetic than someone without the disease. Current estimates say that fully one third of the population will have the disease in the next 20-30 years.
And why? For the same reason that heart disease is the biggest killer in this country. They are lifestyle diseases. We are fed them by the Standard American Diet (SAD). You can graph the correlation between eating animal products and these diseases and see an upward trend.
In Norway, heart disease was increasing at the same rate as here from the beginning of the twentieth century until the Nazis invaded in 1940. Then all of the agricultural animals were seized by the Germans to feed their army, and the people of Norway were perforce eating a plant based diet. The drop off in coronary artery disease was greater than any produced by any drug Big Pharma has foisted on us. After the war, Norway’s rate of heart disease returned on the upward track we see in all western societies.
The science is clear and undeniable. But the animal agriculture industry is as strong or stronger than the tobacco industry when it was faced with similar damning evidence. Our USDA is crippled by its dual mission to support American farming interests while producing nutritional guidelines for the people. The business people are more important to USDA’s ongoing work than the people. While the evidence shows that meat and dairy are the primary causes of most lifestyle diseases in this country, are promoters of cancer and possibly Altzheimers, the USDA fails to give us that message. While we are actively encouraged to eat fruit and vegetables, we are advised to eat “protein.” A little bubble adds “Dairy” to the mix. We are told to avoid saturated fats and trans fats, but not told that virtually the only sources of saturated fats are in the animal market. (The one notable exception is coconut oil, solid at room temperature, a sure sign of saturation.)
What is to be done? Pangloss would tell us that in the best of all possible worlds, we would continue to eat as we have been eating for a century or more, and the health defects would be cured another way. I ask you how many diseases the medical profession has managed to cure. We have defeated some diseases with vaccines, some with antibiotics (although that is another troublesome issue given the excessive use of antibiotics by the animal industry), and there have been some successes in treating various cancers. The only successes in curing heart disease and diabetes have come from complete dietary changes. Cardiologists regularly tell their patients to eat a healthier diet, without telling them what that is. Instead, statin drugs are used to lower cholesterol, when the cholesterol problem could be cured by not eating animal products.
The animal agriculture industry funds studies, some of which do not confirm what I am saying here. For example, one study compared a meat-based diet to a so-called low fat diet, and the meat diet was no worse than the low fat diet. Except for one thing. The “low fat” diet used by the researchers was one under the federal guidelines that suggest that we should eat no more that 30% of our calories from fat. If that’s a low fat diet, I have a bridge I could sell you.
I am on the way to curing my diabetes by not adding fat to the food I cook. I saute in vegetable broth and get more flavorful food. I use bananas in baking to substitute for fats. I make crackers with nothing more than chia seeds to bind the ingredients together. My diet is probably less than 10% fat. Now that’s a low fat diet. Because even veggies and legumes have fat in them, it isn’t possible to go fat-free. But I’m low enough fat to cure diabetes and that’s a start.